Vows, commitments and modern life:  Don’t externalize your practice of Tantra

Showing secret substances to an unsuitable person. 

We incur this downfall if without a good reason we show our Tantric ritual objects to those without empowerments or to those who have received empowerments but who have no faith.  However, if our motivation is to encourage others to develop faith in Secret Mantra we do not incur a downfall.

Our tantric ritual objects include our vajra, bell, inner offering substance and the different objects that are used during Tantric empowerments.  Generally speaking, we keep a cloth over these objects when they are on our meditation table and we are not meditating so that people coming by don’t see them.  We can also put them in a cupboard if we wish.

The reasons for not showing these ritual objects is fairly straightforward.  First, if people have no understanding of Buddhist practices in general and Tantric practices in particular, upon seeing these objects people could generate skeptical or critical minds towards Tantric practice, thinking it is weird or cult-like.  As a result of such thought patterns, they create terrible karmic tendencies to reject the Tantric path in the future when they encounter it again.  In this way, they get close to finding the Tantric path (something exceedingly rare) but then again and again they turn away from it.  To protect people from creating such karma for themselves we need to be skillful.  In a similar way, it is possible that people can see these objects and think they are meaningless.  While not as bad as having a critical mind towards them, such negative tendencies of thought likewise make it harder for people to take up the Tantric path in the future.

An additional reason to not show our ritual objects is to remind ourselves that the Tantric path is a “secret path.”  Secret here does not mean like a “secret society”, but rather secret in the sense of outer, inner and secret practices.  Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition unites Sutra and Tantra by explaining that externally we show the aspect of observing pure Pratimoksha vows, internally we generate a mind of bodhichitta and with this mind engage in the six perfections, and secretly we engage in highest yoga tantra.  It is not secret from others, rather it is hidden within our Bodhichitta motivation and indeed within our subtle body.

A further reason is some types of realization or inner experience get destroyed when we externalize them.  Just as old-style camera film gets ruined when exposed to light, so too many tantric realizations can be lost if they are prematurely externalized before they are fully ripened.  In particular, when we are on retreat we need to be careful in that externalizing our experiences might bring them to an end.  In general, we do not speak openly about our tantric experiences, but rather do so privately with trusted Sangha friends and teachers.

We might ask, “if all of this is true, why then do we put these ritual objects on sale to the public in the Dharma shops in our centers?”  The reason this is OK is within the context of a Dharma center it is perfectly normal to have such objects, so nobody would think it is strange.  Likewise, most of the people who come into a Dharma center will have at least enough faith to have wanted to seek out instructions, so there is no downfall.

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